We present a structured, analytical approach to optimize ground-sensor placements based on time-series remotely sensed (LiDAR) data and machine-learning algorithms. We focused on catchments within the Merced and Tuolumne river basins, covered by the JPL Airborne Snow Observatory LiDAR program. First, we used a Gaussian mixture model to identify representative sensor locations in the space of independent variables for each catchment. Multiple independent variables that govern the distribution of snow depth were used, including elevation, slope, and aspect. Second, we used a Gaussian process to estimate the areal distribution of snow depth from the initial set of measurements. This is a covariance-based model that also estimates the areal distribution of model uncertainty based on the independent variable weights and autocorrelation. The uncertainty raster was used to strategically add sensors to minimize model uncertainty. We assessed the temporal accuracy of the method using LiDAR-derived snow-depth rasters collected in water-year 2014. In each area, optimal sensor placements were determined using the first available snow raster for the year. The accuracy in the remaining LiDAR surveys was compared to 100 configurations of sensors selected at random. We found the accuracy of the model from the proposed placements to be higher and more consistent in each remaining survey than the average random configuration. We found that a relatively small number of sensors can be used to accurately reproduce the spatial patterns of snow depth across the basins, when placed using spatial snow data. Our approach also simplifies sensor placement. At present, field surveys are required to identify representative locations for such networks, a process that is labor intensive and provides limited guarantees on the networks' representation of catchment independent variables.
Oroza, C.; Zheng, Z.; Glaser, S.D.; Bales, R.C.; Conklin, M.H. (2016): Optimizing placements of ground-based snow sensors for areal snow cover estimation using a machine-learning algorithm and melt-season snow-LiDAR data. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2016. Abstract C44A-08..